On June 17th, women in Saudi Arabia plan to take to the streets—they’re going to get behind the wheel to protest a religious edict forbidding them to drive. As Eman wrote in a post about the Women2Drive campaign yesterday, Manal Al-Sharif posted a Youtube video of herself calling on all women to drive their automobiles on that day. She told CNN that her move was induced by the fact that “there is no law that bans women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia, besides the fact that it is becoming so frustrating to wait for a cab or a male relative to pick us up.”
For some advocates of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and the region at large, the Women2Drive campaign amounts to no more than a virtual effort that will not make a dent in long-entrenched conservative traditions. Attitudes against women driving also reflect the complexity of social contradictions in Saudi society, where women have access to formal and university education and many modern professions, yet they are denied the right to drive a car. The critical question often raised is how media channels, especially social networks, can be harnessed to bring about positive shifts in negative long-standing social perceptions of women as drivers.
I believe that we should not pin much hope on social media alone to realize women’s rights. The media has only a supporting role to play and often leaves long-term effects on audiences. In order to affect tangible changes in peoples’ behavior, we need to create knowledge on the subject at hand before we move to reinforce positive attitudes towards that subject. It is in this context that I see the Women2Drive cyber campaign’s contribution to raising awareness about Saudi women car drivers as instrumental in achieving those projected long-term effects on people’s attitudes.